The Unedited Holiday Diary / 25 January 1999
Today is my last day at work before going on vacation. You can imagine the inertia. I’ve pretty much just sat at my desk, motionless, for the past six hours, neither giving nor receiving. There was a brief break for lunch because V came over and was all: “I hear they have a new dressing at the salad bar.” This made everyone else’s heads jerk back in alarm, as if a loud, piercing wail had just banshee’d its way through the office, like the day before when the fire alarm went off (thank you very little you miserable lawyers on the fifth floor who can’t seem to monitor the toasting of your bagels!!!!) and it was the kind of sound that makes your mind howl, you know, like the cries of a thousand dead souls, which got me to thinking, well, perhaps that’s exactly what it’s supposed to sound like, it’s supposed to be evocative of the millions of lives that have been lost to fire. It’s supposed to bypass your rational mind and go right to that collective unconscious so you have absolutely no choice but to get up, leaving behind your personal effects and urgent work-related materials, and run to the nearest exit. Anyhow, that’s what V’s announcement was like, too. “Garlic parmesan,” she said, and so we all hustled down there in our feverish quest for novelty. But otherwise today was pretty unproductive. I was supposed to finish that article about vibrators before I left today, but that’s not going to happen.
I’m trying to write this like a drug-fueled psychopath, like there has just been an escape from the institute or something, like I picked the locks that bound me and then tore my way through wave after wave of guards, armed only with a pilfered ballpoint pen and the titanium-embedded artificial knee I cut out of my now-dead ex-roommate (“Limpy”), then I skulked over to the airport and killed a man for his civilian clothes, dressing him in my white scrubs and burning him alive in order to disguise his features, finally slipping on board this 767 with a bloodstained ticket and a heart full of wicked liberation. So this involves a lot of muttering to myself and really almost illegible scrawls here in this book but I’ll do whatever it takes to keep this moron next to me from talking to me for another second.
I DO NOT FIND YOUR CAREER INTERESTING SIR!!! IF YOU CAN READ THIS YOU ARE TOO CLOSE!!!!!
Christmas Eve is a holy time, a time when everyone is indoors and the outside world is dark and hushed and swollen with portent. The month of December, for Christmas-observing individuals, of which there are a lot around here, is like a funnel or a black hole. Let’s say a black hole. You start feeling its pull around Thanksgiving and at first it’s a chaotic joyride, December is, a flurry of activity, a hypodermic injection of excitement. You step out into the world and immediately feel the elegant and towering construction of community. You go to any mall in the country and you might as well be stepping into a maze of mirrors, such is the display of identical identity. Bestselling novels and melon ballers take on iconic status. The density of the air keeps your eyelids droopy.
The center, or bottom, of this black hole is today. It is the focus upon which the weight of December rests, and I thank Jesus for the blindness and numbness that Christmas Eve delivers unto us.
Mother thought it would be a fine idea to visit the graves of our loved ones on this silent night. Tradition has always been vague and shifty in our family. “I mostly have some things I’d like to say to Innie,” Mother said, and we all piled into the car.
The cemetery was absolutely freezing. It hurt to look at things, it was so cold. Jenna and Vicky were both freaking out and it really was straight out of a horror movie. I started singing “Thriller” while Mother knelt at the grave of her sister, delivering a lengthy monologue that none of us could quite make out (thank god) because of the howling wind, but it definitely involved a lot of gesturing, esp. pointing and fist-making. Jenna quickly realized it was more entertaining scaring her sister than being scared herself, so she pretended to be possessed for a while and you could tell that Vicky wasn’t entirely sure it was a joke. “It would’ve explained a lot of things,” she told me right before going to sleep tonight. Mother got mad when I referred to the cemetery as a “boneyard,” back at home when I was talking to C on the phone. C sounds like she’s doing pretty well. She’s not especially happy being back home for the holidays but otherwise OK. She’s got some job where she thinks up names for companies, which just sounds like the best job of all time. I hadn’t heard of anything she’d done, but there was some good stuff like “Seasnake” and “Elysian Hum” and “Q.E.D.” (except it was just the symbol for Q.E.D., that little pyramid of periods). She’s in this relationship (!) where she makes the guy do arbitrary tasks all the time just because she knows he’ll do it. She says she’ll get tired of that in 4-6 months.
i dontkn ow how thihs thingwroks
Evidently I used this notebook back in high school. I just found it here in my room. It has my notes for European History in it, and then some really godawful song lyrics and lots and lots of little drawings. I guess I had a predilection for burning houses in that era. So another Christmas has come and gone and we’re all sitting around in a kind of bloated stupor. I think the gifts I gave people this year were really razor-sharp, all accomplishing exactly what I’d intended. They weren’t necessarily things that people wanted, but they were things that made people stop and think, “Why did he give me this?” and then after thinking about it for a while they’d wonder if I (and, by extension, everyone else) was perceiving them in a completely different way from how they thought or hoped they were being perceived. It’s funny.
There’s this guy at work who always uses the phrase “paradigm shifter.”
I got a Palm Pilot from Jenna, speaking of skewed perceptions. She says when I’m sitting there trying to figure it out she can easily picture how I’ll look when I’m ninety, sitting on a park bench somewhere, hunched over and squinting, my hand a palsied claw, a look of focused bewilderment on my face. I pretend to not remember her name, calling her “Marty,” that nasty old dog that Uncle Harv used to have. Vicky got some sort of little machine that makes a wide assortment of loud and obnoxious sound effects.
I find tampons wherever I go. There are way too many women in this house.
I’m writing this in a Motel 6 in Beltway. Late last night I got a call from M and he thought it would be a good idea to take a daytrip to Mt Norfolk for some sledding and I told him that I don’t go sledding anymore and he said that’s because I haven’t used his special homemade sled and I said I’m really not going to use a homemade sled but he wore me down and I went over to his place this morning and saw this sled and let me tell you, it was a work of art. I’m not even sure what it’s made of, but it looks like half a sphere, except a little angled toward the front. It’s bright blue and perfectly smooth and shiny. He even put a little padded seat and handlebars inside of it. So we tied this thing to the top of his car and headed for the hills. The sled worked like a charm and was FAST. The only problem was that the paint came off right away, so we left these blue trails behind us wherever we went. The real cleverness of the design was that even if you spun out of control and flipped over, the sides were just curvy enough so you’d invariably end right back up where you started with only a minor slowdown in your velocity. M said it was that component of the design that took the longest. He was planning on submitting the sled for his doctorate.
As we were driving back home, though, the sled came loose from the top of the car and rolled, quickly and smoothly, with well-engineered grace, down the front windshield and onto the road. M swerved to miss it and we hit some ice, spun around two or three times, and then smacked against a tree on the side of the road. Meanwhile a car coming the other direction hit M’s sled and smashed it into a million pieces. I remember hearing that happen as I sat there in the passenger seat wondering if I should leap out the window and run away before the car exploded.
M’s car was thoroughly wrecked and the truth of the situation is that it wasn’t M’s car at all but his father’s, and this is why he told the tow truck guy to take us to this motel instead of home. M said he needed a night to think things over and decide what exactly his next move would be. M is not in a particularly good mood right now. The one-two punch of totaling his dad’s car and losing his sled is taking its toll. I’m secretly happy to be in a place that has HBO and am currently enjoying Scrooged starring Bill Murray and directed by Richard Donner, who also did Lethal Weapon.
Today is somebody’s birthday, but I can’t remember who. Whom. Not a family member, but someone else. Shit.
So M kept me up all night devising the perfect variation of the truth, a variation that would be both extremely plausible and extremely heart-rending. Since his dad knew how much work he put into the sled, and was proud of such hands-on, DIY-type effort, I suggested that he play that angle up, you know, the anguish over the loss of this thing, how they’ve both, he and his dad, they’ve both lost something very important to them. M didn’t know if that would fly and preferred the whole “I’m lucky to be alive” approach, like “yes, the car is wrecked but at least your son is still alive.” So he turned the intensity of our crash up a few notches, adding a desperate flee from the burning wreckage (dad would never see the actual car again, the tow truck man ensured us, so M felt comfortable saying that the car was actually on fire at the time of the impact). I said I would back up whatever story he wanted, but that wasn’t good enough for M. He wrote down a detailed report of the accident and made me commit it to memory before allowing me to leave the motel.
My mother and sisters were glad that I was OK and made me a Philly cheesesteak, my favorite dinner.
I’m at the airport and will remain here for another 36 hours. The family dropped me off this morning and then headed on straight to Texas to visit the grandparents so I can’t go back home. I don’t want to point any fingers but Vicky did delay our departure by a good twenty minutes because she simply HAD to find her lucky barrette, the one that looks like a little old-fashioned telephone. She said something about her best friend meeting the love of her life at the airport and how it always paid to look your best. Then there was the problem at the x-ray place where they thought my Palm Pilot was some sort of detonation device. So that added another ten minutes and blah-blah, whatever, I missed my plane. I didn’t even miss it, they’d just given my seat to somebody else, a total stranger, by the time I got to the gate. I asked the clerk if my bag would be OK. “My luggage is on that flight, is it going to be OK? Will it wait for me at the airport?” I had a lot of important things in that duffel bag, including my Christmas booty and two of my three favorite shirts and the keys that unlocked the doors to my apartment and my car and also the … well … you know. That other thing. The clerk had a heart that pumped pure bile.
So I’m sitting here writing this, minding my own business, and this guy sits down next to me and strikes up a conversation. None of my evasive techniques worked, they just bounced off this guy. Why does this keep happening to me? “Trying to get to the Bay Area, huh?” he says. I instantly changed my face to look like I was writing my last will and testament and trying to decide which family member would get which body part, like something really heavy and serious was going on, you know, but the guy didn’t notice. “I’ve got to get back tonight,” he said. “Something really bad is going to happen if I don’t get back by tonight.” I said something like “yeah the wife is going to kill me too” because I have this tendency to lie to everyone I talk to and it’s not something I’m proud of, not something I enjoy, but it is something that happens and it may or may not have happened at this time. Then this guy says, “When does your flight leave? I’m serious, if your flight leaves before mine, I need your ticket. I will pay you extra for it.” I told him that I wasn’t leaving until tomorrow night and he immediately started to gather up his belongings and look for somebody else. “You ever been in a situation where lives hang in the balance?” he said, and I shook my head and returned to my writing. “You ever been responsible for the deaths of seventeen people?” I gave him one of those tight-lipped smiles and shook my head again.
the stench of the airport is everywhere its in my sinuses and pores and in the little crevasses within my brain and the voice of god has a hint of feedback to it and it repeats names over and over and those that are called will never been seen nor heard from again and im just waiting and waiting for it to call my name and then i can be enveloped in an inky blackness a womb where i can fully stretch out and get a normal nights sleep so
5? or 6? There’s nobody here I particularly want to talk to but everyone is extraordinarily beautiful.
6 or 5. I always forget to embed a sensation of momentousness at this point in the night.
Definitely 7. I remember once having an idea for a story, or rather a tiny scene within a tiny story, wherein our protagonist would be dining on some healthy party snacks and would be chatting with a woman in a low-cut black dress and they would be chatting about politics and he would pick up a baby carrot and
There is the pain of losing a loved one to a prolonged and debilitating illness, and then there is the pain that I am feeling right now.
Nothing is true about the preceding story except for the following:
The fire alarm did go off at work recently.
I did read Stephen King’s Bag of Bones but this was later on in the trip when I was stranded at the airport and had no reading material so I picked it up at the airport newsstand.
I do have a mother, but her sister is alive and she has no daughters and anyway I spent Christmas with my father and stepmother and two half-brothers.
I did get a Palm Pilot for Christmas.
There is a guy at work who uses the phrase “paradigm shifter” a lot in his writing.
I do like Philly cheesesteaks but I’m not sure if I’d call them my “favorite dinner.”
I actually do know whose birthday is on December 28th.
I did watch Scrooged in a motel room (but it was on Showtime, not HBO).
I was in that motel room during my 36-hour stay at the Denver International Airport which occurred because I did, indeed, get bumped from my flight.
I was concerned about the status of my duffel bag, and did eventually find it at SFO.
I was nervous about forgetting to say “rabbit rabbit” and that baby carrot idea is true, too.
Various thoughts and opinions here and there are probably authentically mine, too, I guess.